During WWII, the USAAF created the Women Airforce Service Pilots organization in an effort to meet the demands pilot vacancies created on the home front. Civilian female pilots first appeared in the military in September of 1942 with the formation of two separate organizations – Women’s Flying Training Detachment and Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. In August of 1943, these two groups were combined under the US Army Air Force establishing a civilian female pilot program. The premise of the program was to teach women pilots to fly military aircraft. Of the 25,000 plus who initially applied, 1,830 were actually accepted but only 1,074 of those women passed the training.
In the Beginning
The initial idea for a program for civilian female pilots began in mid-1941, when two female pilots submitted independent proposals to the USAAF. They each solicited the USAAF to allow women fly aircraft in non-combat missions. Despite the support and lobbying efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt, both proposals were turned down.
In anticipation to military involvement in the war, military efforts in the early 1940s focused on expanding the number of men in service. On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the shortage of male pilots became apparent. As a result, General William Tunner, who was in charge of attaining additional civilian pilots, sought assistance in utilizing women for the newly vacated roles. With the help of Major and Mrs. Robert Love, his vision became a reality and the WASP organization was formed.
About the WASP
Each woman in the WASP had a pilot’s license, but as members of the USAAF, they were trained to be “Army pilots”. Though they were not trained for combat service, their training was very similar to the training of aviation cadets. The WASP did not receive any armament training, and they received very little instruction on formation flying. However, the women did receive extensive instructions on how to maneuver the aircrafts and recover from just about any scenario.
The women pilots in the WASP program flew just about every aircraft imaginable. Some even tested rocket –propelled planes. Throughout their service carreer, 38 WASP would lose their lives while flying. All 38 deaths were attributed to accidents.
Because the WASP were classified under civil service, those who did die had to be returned home at the expense of their families and permission was never granted to drape their coffins with the US flag. Despite efforts to militarize this organization, the group was disbanded on December 20, 1944.